Death and the Noble Body in Medieval England

October 2008
3 black and white, 1 line illustrations
202 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
ISBN: 9781843834168
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
Boydell Press

Death and the Noble Body in Medieval England

Danielle Westerhof

An examination of early medieval ideas about death and dying, in relation to funeral practices, traditions and rituals.
We all die, but how we perceive death as an event, process or state is inextricably connected to our experiences and the social and environmental culture in which we live. During the early middle ages, the body was used to demonstrate a whole range of concepts and assumptions: the ideal aristocrat possessed a strong, whole and virile body which reflected his inner virtues, and nobility of birth was understood to presuppose and enhance nobility of character and action. Here, the author examines how contemporary ideas about death and dying disrupted this abstract ideal. She explores the meaning of aristocratic funerary practices such as embalming and heart burial, and, conversely, looks at what the gruesomely elaborate executions of aristocratic traitors in England around the turn of the fourteenth century reveal about the role of the body in perceptions of group identity and society at large.

Dr DANIELLE WESTERHOF is Honorary Visiting Fellow, School of Historical Studies, University of Leicester.

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Keywords: Medieval History

Table of Contents

Introduction: Staking out Aristocratic Identities at Roncevaux
Death and the Cadaver: Visions of Corruption
Embodying Nobility: Aristocratic Men and the Ideal Body
Here Lies Nobility: Aristocratic Bodies in Death
Shrouded in Ambiguity: Decay and Incorruptibility of the Body
Corruption of Nobility: Treason and the Aristocratic Traitor
Dying in Shame: Destroying Aristocratic Identities


Using a variety of sources and perspectives, and deftly marshaling convincing evidence . Death and the Noble Body stands as an impressive, interdisciplinary achievement. STUDIES IN MEDIEVAL AND RENAISSANCE TEACHING

Wide ranging and fully interdisciplinary... clear, stimulating and accessible. ENGLISH HISTORICAL REVIEW

[A] fascinating book. THE RICARDIAN

[The author] demonstrates an impressive mastery of the documentary sources and her thesis on the noble body should be essential reading for archaeologists with an interest in burial. JOURNAL OF MEDIEVAL ARCHAEOLOGY

Should be essential reading for archaeologists with an interest in burial. In particular, her analysis of 'multiple burials' - those where the heart and/or viscera were interred in a separate location from the body - provides an explanation for phenomena detectable in the archaeological record. MEDIEVAL ARCHAEOLOGY

Offers valuable new information on multiple burials and a fresh perspective on the link between aristocratic burial and aristocratic execution in medieval England. MEDICAL HISTORY

Westerhof's emphasis on the spiritual and symbolic meaning of the heart is valuable, and her exploration of the traitorous corpse is interesting. Her quantitative approach is useful, and two appendices set out the evidence for 'multiple burials' and aristocratic executions. CHURCH MONUMENTS

Death and the Noble Body brings much-needed attention to a connection that has too often been overlooked: the division of the noble body for burial and its dismemberment on the scaffold. [...] Fill[s] an important gap in the scholarship on medieval penal practice, which has too often failed to acknowledge that kings and queens, as well as traitors, were dismembered after death. JOURNAL OF BRITISH STUDIES

A very useful and well-written synthesis in terms of both historiography and the historical content itself. AMERICAN HISTORICAL REVIEW

[The author] convincingly portrays a time when the bodies of the dead still spoke for them and the eternal part of them. TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT

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